There are some matches that go beyond the reporting of break points, winners and unforced errors. Those matches are made of feelings, raw emotions and pure grit, the kind that when they are over tears are the most natural way to express feelings so different, yet equally true on both sides of the net. They merged in a sincere hug between Anhelina Kalinina and Beatriz Haddad Maia when after 3 hours and 40 minutes, the last shot of an epic match was called out, giving to the Ukrainian the victory and a maiden WTA Masters 1000 semifinal. (2)6-7 7-6(6) 6-3 the final score.
The winner and the loser, in that moment, realized how much they had in common and how small the margin was and yet how big of a difference it made. Their tears came from exhaustion, mental and physical, from a match that was fought from the very first to the very last ball, from the crescendo of tension for a match that little by little was shaping to be a memorable one. It was late, it was cold, it even started drizzling for a bit, but like two gladiators Haddad-Maia and Kalinina had no other option than keep fighting and they did it in a spectacular way.
The Ukrainian was the one that had the best impact to the start of the match: few moments and she was leading 4-0. The crowd was noisy, the moment caught on her, and Haddad surely used her chance to break back into the match. The Brazilian, after calling for the trainer to treat her calf, seemed more comfortable on court and her game level rose with it.
Kalinina suddenly found herself chasing, she saved set points on 6-5, but in the tiebreak, she was not more than a spectator to her opponent’s winners.
Perseverance was not unknown to the world number 47: she kept going for her chances, played smart and did not let the missed chance affect her. Strong of her narrow angles and great anticipation, she found a way to contain the power of Haddad Maia and made it a physical battle for her opponent too.
With the clock coming closer to the three hours mark, the was no sign of giving up from either side and the fierce look in the eyes of Kalinina, when she closed the second set with a stunning backhand winner, was telling of what was still to come.
Late night in Rome 🇮🇹— wta (@WTA) May 16, 2023
Kalinina claws back to take the 2nd set tiebreak vs. Haddad Maia and they’ll go the distance!#IBI23 pic.twitter.com/wuaSJiV3uB
Haddad-Maia broke first in the decider, for the first time in the match she was the one to start a set on the front foot, but it soon proved to be a desperate final shot. The Brazilian looked more and more tired, her movements slowed down, her shots lost depth. From 3-0 in her favour, the match suddenly saw Kalinina winning 6 consecutive games to give her possibly the most emotional victory in her career.
Both women left the court in tears with a standing ovation from a crowd that grew into the match and understood how humanly amazing it was to experience that moment with such two phenomenal athletes.
3 hours and 41 minutes 🙌— wta (@WTA) May 16, 2023
An incredible match by both players but it’s Anhelina Kalinina who prevails in the end.#IBI23 pic.twitter.com/vkGheYExjC
Kalinina will come on court as an underdog in the semifinal where she will face Veronika Kudermetova, who also had to battle for three sets to have the better of China’s Qinwen Zheng 3-6 6-3 6-4.